Pastor Mike Schumann
Failure of the False Gods
Nebuchadnezzar was a king with a wearied soul. He had called in the best and brightest that manmade religion had to offer — they were to be salve to his wearied soul, but they failed. These professional manipulators of the gods, who’d offer spells, charms and sacrifices in hopes that it’d convince the gods to spill out their little secrets, they failed.
They failed. Though, in their opinion, they never even got a chance. For when they appeared before Nebuchadnezzar, they were likely expecting the usual — king describes dream to us, we weave its parts together into some semblance of meaning, then we present it back to the king with a bright red bow on top — “here you go king, this should be able to help sleep at night.” That’s how this game of religion was being played, that’s how the process was supposed to go. But, not this time.
This time is different. For whatever reason, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, seems fed up with the game. Perhaps he’d been suspecting the way the game is being fixed. Perhaps he’s doubting its legitimacy. Ultimately all we know is in this situation, this time, the king says, “tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can show me its interpretation” (2:9).
You have to imagine the jaws of the diviners drop to the ground: Nebuchadnezzar, you gotta give us some hints first. You gotta offer up some clues. You gotta give us some pictures, words, phrases that we can tinker with, work with, lace together. That’s how this thing works — that’s how you play along...Or, in the words of verse 10-11, “They answer the king and say, “There is not a man on earth who can meet the king's demand, for no great and powerful king has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean.
Why? Why has no king ever asked such a thing from his magicians and enchanters? Perhaps it’s because the idea that any of the gods would draw so near to man as to incline his ear to him, listen to his pleas for help, guidance, understanding, and then honor the man by providing it — perhaps that idea was absolutely ludicrous.
“Our gods do not care about us. Our gods are not stooping down and communicating with us. Sure maybe we can barter with the gods, haggle with them, performe some sort of ritual or rite before them in order that they might cough-up some sort of response. But I know not a god who is willing to talk with a man, face-to-face, as to a friend.”
No one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh. “Our gods do not dwell here Nebuchadnezzar — with us. You’re going to have to tell us what you dream was, Nebuchadnezzar, because our gods won’t.”
Nebuchadnezzar responds in ferocious vengeance — death to all the wise men in Babylon. Is he mad at the wise men? They’re just doing their job. Is he mad at the gods? Their just being who they are — far off and fickle. Is he mad at the situation, the dream, the fact that this haunting picture is hanging above him all day and all night and it feels it will suffocate him soon if an answer does not come? Is he mad because he, the mighty king of Babylon, had finally entered into a situation in which his power, rule, and authority was not enough to save him?
We don’t know why the outlandish challenge, why the intense anger after the challenge was not met…all we know is the anger was there, no salve for the soul was to be found, and so he cried out, “it’s time for heads to roll.”
Daniel is not a magician, an enchanter, or sorcerer. He comes armed not with potions, serums, or spells. He is not there to twist God’s arm. He’s not there to deal with the “gods” of the Babylonians, who he knows are no gods at all, but mere demons playing dress-up. Daniel is there because he knows the one true God, Yahweh.
Daniel knows Yahweh, the one who, contrary to the Babylonian gods, does, in fact, dwell with the flesh. As he’d said following the Exodus, “I am the LORD their God…I brought my people out of Egypt….My dwelling place will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people.” (Ex. 29:46, 37:27).
Daniel knew this God. So, at the very height of Nebuchadnezzar’s rage, Daniel asks to appear before him. And this is wild. Arioch, the king's captain, he was the one sent by Nebuchadnezzar to round up all the wise men and put them to death. Daniel goes up to him, verse 16, And requests the king to appoint him a time, that he might show the interpretation to the king. Church, he hadn’t even known the dream at this point. He didn’t even know the dream — let alone the interpretation. And he says, “appoint me a time, that I might show the interpretation to the king.”
And some might think that sounds arrogant but consider his very next move. He goes home and gets on his face. Daniel knows his God. He knows that He is both faithful, and merciful. Yet, he does not presume upon him. He doesn’t go home, turn on the TV, and just assume the answer will fall from the sky. He goes home and he gets on his face, along with his three friends, and seek mercy from his faithful God — The God who dwells with his people.
And, Yahweh answers.
And just revel in Daniel’s response here in verses 20-22. “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him. To you, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for you have given me wisdom and might, and have now made known to me what we asked of you.”
You, oh God, change times and seasons, you move kings and set up kings, and you hear the prayers of four young men who are very needy, and very far from home. How different is that compared to “No one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.”
So, Daniel, now armed with the dream and its interpretation, appears before Nebuchadnezzar, and he wants to make sure he sets one thing straight before he gives any detail on the dream or its interpretation — lest Nebuchadnezzar simply lump Daniel in with the other magicians and prophets of the false gods. So he says, Verse 27-28, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days.”
There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries (2x). Nebuchadnezzar there is a God in heaven, and he is a God who is far more powerful, far more sovereign, far more in control than any of the gods you have ever known. And, Nebuchadnezzar, he is a God who is far more immanent, near, merciful, and kind to his people, than you could have ever dreamed. Your dream, and its interpretation, come direct from the eternal throne of the true king of the universe, God almighty.
So, Daniel lays out the details of the dream. It’s a statue made of four parts: gold, silver, bronze, and iron mixed with clay. Now, as Daniel will say, these four parts represent four different kingdoms, likely in sequential order. Now, we’ll get to who these four kingdoms are, eventually, but for now, our emphasis, will not be on the kingdoms as four separate parts. Rather, we’re first going to look at what I believe is being emphasized here in this section, namely, that these kingdoms have been fused together, as if they’ve been morphed into one mammoth memorial to the glories of self-exultant man. This statue represents the glories of man’s kingdoms as a whole — all stacked up, all shining, so that the world might look and think, “My, look how mighty the human has become!”
And, in the dream, this mammoth memorial has an enemy. Something, or someone, to face off with. Like, in this corner, weighing in at so many pounds, are the cumulative glories of mankind. And, in this corner, a stone.
So, Giant pillars of metal — iron, bronze, silver, gold, versus stone, about to collide. Who do you think is going to win?
Verse 34: “As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found.”
The kingdoms of man, not only destroyed, but blown from the face of the earth, by a mere stone. And, maybe one helpful thing to say here is that the reason these kingdoms are destroyed is not because human kingdoms are inherently bad. Money is inherently bad. Power is inherently bad. No, kingdoms are not inherently bad. But the reason these kingdoms are destroyed is because they do not glorify God, but man. Some of them may worship other gods, essentially all of them worship their human king, but none of these kingdoms worship Yahweh, the true God of all the universe. So, by default, they would seek to rob God of his glory…and church, God will not be robbed of his glory. So, these kingdoms go down.
What is it about this stone that allows it to crush the self-exultant kingdoms of man? Yes, the text says the stone appears perfect, cut by no human hand — perfect composition, dimensions, angles, and design. But how pitiful is a mere stone compared to valuable, shining, impressive pillars gold and silver? Who of you, looking at the gold, would have chosen the stone? It seems, we’d all, likely, reject this stone, in favor of the other metals.
And we’d be absolute fools to do so, because, the gold, which looks good now, is soon to be reduced to rubble...while the stone, which appears to be insignificant, valueless, and forgettable, will not only crush entire statue, but it, itself, is a stone which grows into “a great mountain and filled the whole earth.”
That’s the image, that the end of the dream. And Daniel gives its interpretation in verse 44, where he says, “And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever.”
So, this stone, which grows into a great mountain to fill the earth, represents a kingdom, which fills the earth, and stands forever. This is God’s kingdom. He, as the king forever, has a kingdom, which stands forever. And his kingdom, according to the dream, was set up “And in the days of those kings.”
So it’s been there, throughout the reign of those kings, but, it seems to begin its process of dismantling those manmade kingdoms specifically during the reign of the fourth kingdom. We know this, because the dream shows that the stone came crashing down, specifically, on the fourth kingdom, the feet of this enormous status.
The stone was set up during the reigns of those kings — and it went into motion, dismantling those manmade kingdoms, during the reign of the fourth kingdom. To which, it’s only natural to ask, who’s the fourth kingdom? And it’s a very easy answer to find, for history clearly shows us that the world empires went chronologically in this order: Babylon, Persia, Greece, and, finally, Rome. This stone, God’s kingdom, goes into motion, and makes it’s decisive impact, during the reign of Rome. More on that in a bit.
So, this kingdom has been set up, this kingdom will never end, so, by implication, this kingdom is here, now. And, it is a kingdom imperishable, undefiled, and unfading (1 Pet. 1:4). A kingdom that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God (Heb. 11:10). A kingdom, built upon a living stone, rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious.
A kingdom built by the son of man himself. Who, upon his entrance into ministry in the world, proclaimed loudly for all to hear: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.”
The kingdom of God is Jesus’ kingdom, and it is manifested today, right now, in the church, the men and women in the world who love, worship, adore Jesus. We, you and me, the church, we are members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” Eph. 2:19-21.
The kingdom is here, but not fully here, at least not yet. One day it will be. The kingdom is not fully here, yet, but it is here now. Come Babylon, come Persia, come Greece come Rome, come presidents, come rulers, come dictators and kings, the kingdom is here, and it is never to be destroyed. Rather, it is to grow, until one day this mountain kingdom shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” Micah 4:1-2. The kingdom is here, and it will never be moved.
God is the Crusher of Kings
So, the kingdom of God is here. And one of the actions, set in motion, is that this kingdom will result in the dismantling of the self-exalting kingdoms of man. As Daniel had said earlier, in verse 22, “God sets up kings, and he removes them.” Or Proverbs, God holds the hearts of kings, (even the Mightiest of kings), He like streams (of water) in his hand — guiding them wherever, whenever, and however he wants to” (Proverbs 21:1).
You hear that Nebuchadnezzar, you hear that Pharaoh, you hear that kings and princes from Babel to Babylon, and everywhere in between — you are a stream, you are fleeting, you are temporary. God is the crusher of self-exultant kings.
Here’s one point of application: In a world where God crushes self-exultant kingdoms, you don’t want to be king. You don’t want to be found, by this God, seated upon the throne of your own self-exaltation. You don’t want to be found, by Him, basking in the light of self-made splendor and glory…Nor do you want to be found, by Him, in restless pursuit of it.
Now, God had said to the Jewish exiles, living in Babylon during this time, “Build houses; plant gardens, your daughters in marriage…multiply there…seek the good of that city.” But he didn’t say attempt to build your own kingdom there. He did not say make a name for yourself there. He did not say cause others to worship you there. This was the downfall of Adam and Eve in the garden — not wanting to worship God, but wanting to be worshipped as gods. This was the downfall of those at the tower of Babel, not wanting to worship God, but wanting to be worshipped as gods. It did not end well for those people. It did not end well for the self-exultant kings of Babylon, Persia, Rome, and so on. It will not end well for you if you ascend to the throne, or attempt to ascend to the throne, of personal glory in this world. Your kingdom will be crushed.
Yes, build houses; plant gardens, seek the good of this city. But, remember, remember, remember, this city is not your home, and you are not it’s citizen. You are an exile. And you will continue to live in exile as long as the ground beneath your feet shouts “temporary!”
You are not at home right now. You will be home, soon, and all of this will be no more. Don’t seek the kingship of kingdom which is doomed to dust, seek to worship the king over the kingdom without end. You have no lasting city here, but you do have a lasting city, with him.
So, obviously, one application here is to be aware of your inclination toward becoming king. We all have it, for we are all sinners. And as sinners we want worship, we want followers, we want a kingdom that exalts me. Be aware. Are you vying for the throne in your job and the money it gets you, the respect it gets you, the title it gets you? Are you vying for the throne in your school, what your GPA says about you, what your professors think of you? Are you vying for the throne in your own home, either what your kids say about you, or, even more subtle, what others say about your kids? Are you vying for the throne rather than enjoying the one, pointing to the one, worshipping the one who already sits upon it?
Second point of application is this: Count it a grace, an act of merciful love, if you find your self-exultant throne to be crushed. Not as many likes on this post as I expected. Not as much praise from my parents as I expected. Not as much satisfaction out of this accomplishment as I expected. Count it a grace, an act of merciful love, if you find your self-exultant throne to be crushed. God is crushing your kingdom because he loves you. And he wants you to live for, and be a citizen of, the kingdom which has no end.